My first review on this site is for an epic sci-fi novel that defies time and space, so our world view (Around the World in 80 Books) is about to get much broader. I’m speaking of the highly-regarded, critically-acclaimed space opera known as Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit Books, October 1, 2013) .
I will be honest and say this is my first space-opera. I was not sure what to expect, but I was intrigued by the thought of the main character being a ship. How can this even be possible!? Leckie’s voice and writing made it easier to step into the role of “sci-fi reader.” The book is about a soldier, Breq, who used to be dead and was brought back to life with artificial intelligence (like all soldiers in the Radch army). Breq does not have any gender and cannot distinguish between genders, instead referring to everyone as “she.” There are hints within the text for the reader to determine the different genders of people that Breq speaks to, but mostly we learn that gender (especially in space, with so many different species) is basically irrelevant.
Breq’s artificial intelligence was once inside a massive ship called the Justice of Toren, where Breq was able to see all, give orders, and control most things. Having been a ship, Breq has a hard time adjusting to life as one person, in one body. She still retains all of her intelligence from her time as an all-knowing space ship.
Breq left the ship because she discovered that her creator, Anaander Minaai (in 4 separate beings), was able to subvert the all-knowing power of her own artificial intelligence, and was about to destroy herself. Minaai was the Lord of the colonizing army of Radch which travels all over the galaxy taking over and rehabilitating planets for her own purposes, putting her artificial intelligence corpse army on the ground to control the inhabitants. It’s pretty disgusting if you think about it, and the people who were being colonized agree.
The story is told from the present, which is the time when Breq is a singular person trying to get vengeance on Minaai for taking away her ship and her life. And throughout the story we have flashbacks that are omnipotent and of a time when the Justice of Toren was colonizing a planet. It’s amazing how Leckie was able to change from one point of view (POV) to another, or multiple views. Also important, which I briefly mentioned above, the gender norms are completely out the window with this. Instead of the patriarchal “he” that we are used to seeing, Leckie instead made Breq default to “she.” This seems amazingly refreshing for such a genre that is heavily dominated by male-centric voices. Breq’s character does not let’s gender stereotypes determine her thoughts of others.
This book will appeal to those who are interested in science fiction, obviously, but also those who may not know much about sci-fi and want to get their minds on something tangible. In my original review on Goodreads I gave this 4 of 5 stars and I’m going to stick with that rating. There were some clarity issues in the beginning when we are first introduced to Breq, but once we’re in her mind and understand how she thinks, it becomes much clearer. I would like to re-read this before I start on the sequel, Ancillary Sword (Published October, 7th 2014).